Manpower’s vanishing visas

Dozens of frustrated workers held a press conference Wednesday to air longstanding grievances with the Manpower and Immigration Ministry, particularly in regards to seemingly false promises made by the ministry three years ago about supposed job opportunities in Italy.

“Instead of solving our problems, the ministry has caused us additional hardships,” construction worker Mohamed Gawish said at the conference, held at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) in Cairo.

The problem began in late 2006, when the ministry announced–via advertisements in state-owned newspapers and on the internet– the availability of 8,000 work visas and employment contracts in Italy. Although some 500,000 Egyptians subsequently applied for the documents, however, only 96 were ever granted.

Questions abound, therefore, as to the fate of the more than 7,900 remaining visas/contracts.

“We’re not sure if this is a case of corruption, embezzlement or fraudulence–but we intend to find out," ECESR Director Khaled Ali told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "Something very fishy has happened here and we want the General Prosecutor to look into it.”

Gawish was one of thousands of workers who had applied for a work contract and visa through the ministry in hopes of finding a better job in Italy.

“I applied in January of 2007," Gawish told Al-Masry Al-Youm. "All applicants had to attend Italian language classes five days a week for six months. Since I live and work in Sharqiya, I–like hundreds of others–had to quit my job to attend these rigorous courses.”

“So now I’ve lost my job in Egypt and also lost my job opportunity in Italy,” he added.

Gawish sought redress by sending an email to the Italian Labor Ministry–using the limited Italian he had by now picked up–in regards to the promised travel and employment documents.

"They sent me a reply informing me that we had been late to respond to the offer and that the contracts and visas had already been handed out,” he recalled. “Afterwards, we repeatedly attempted to contact officials at the Italian embassy in Egypt and the Egyptian Manpower Ministry. But every time we did, the doors were slammed in our faces.”

As of press time, Manpower Ministry officials were unavailable for comment on the issue.

“Such underhanded dealings make workers lose faith in the ministry and other official channels for acquiring work contracts overseas," said Ali. "So workers end up resorting to illegal channels for immigration and the procurement of work abroad, such as smuggling networks to illegally transport them to Europe, by which they are subject to possible drowning at sea.”

Would-be Egyptian immigrants to Europe–especially to Italy–are frequently lost at sea while attempting to make the voyage surreptitiously via smuggling networks. In late 2007, 22 were killed when two boats brimming with Egyptians seeking better lives abroad collided off the Italian coast.

On Wednesday, the ECESR filed a formal request at the General Prosecutor’s office to investigate the visa-related irregularities.

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